Oklahoma City, Okla.—Today, Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill that reverses a controversial Oklahoma law enacted last November that turned horse teeth floaters into felons. The existing law threatened Oklahoma entrepreneurs who care for horse teeth—known as floaters—with felony penalties that included fines of up to $10,000 and jail for up to four years.
Gov. Henry’s action returns to a misdemeanor the acts of filing down and extracting horses’ teeth without a veterinary license. Prior to November, Oklahoma district attorneys did not prosecute floaters when the penalty was a misdemeanor. Horse owners and floaters applaud the Governor for recognizing last year’s mistake and for freeing floaters from potential penalties far greater than any penalty that veterinarians face under their practice act.
“Last year’s legislation caused incredible concern for horse teeth floaters,” said Edye Lucas, founder of the Coalition for Oklahoma Teeth Floaters, whose hundreds of grassroots members have called for reversing the law after Bob Griswold, a popular floater from Geary, Okla., was arrested on March 3 in a sting operation set up by the Oklahoma Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. “The Governor’s signature is a strong message to the Vet Board and district attorneys across the state that floaters should be able to work free from crushing occupational regulations.”
Begun last year, Lucas’s grassroots movement swelled in membership following the arrest of Griswold, who still faces felony charges for violating the Veterinary Practice Act because the new law does not apply retroactively.
“When we learned of the arrest, horse owners saw the real-life effect of this horrible law,” said Lucas, whose husband is a floater. “Even the author of last year’s law, Rep. Brian Renegar, who is a veterinarian, admitted the law had unintended consequences. The Governor was right to sign this law because horse owners are in the best position to know who should work on their horses’ teeth.”
All leading agricultural trade associations in Oklahoma support reversing Oklahoma’s law and freeing floaters, including the Thoroughbred Racing Association, Quarter Horse Racing Association, Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association and others.
Horse owners, horse teeth floaters, veterinarians and others have pledged to work together this summer to find compromise wording to protect the right of horse owners to choose who works on their horses’ teeth and the right of horse teeth floaters to work free from unreasonable occupational regulations.
“Governor Henry’s action recognizes that during these troubled economic times, Oklahoma entrepreneurs should be encouraged, not threatened with fines and incarceration for providing a much-needed service,” said Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has defended equine practitioners in Texas, Minnesota and Maryland. “Oklahoma should not be a place where a few politically-active and wealthy individuals can change the law simply to increase their profits by threatening to incarcerate their competitors.”
The penalties for illegal possession of prescription drugs are not affected by the new law and will remain a misdemeanor.
“This new law does not change Oklahoma’s strict regulation and penalties for misusing prescription drugs,” said McGrath. “The very few veterinarians who oppose this new law are engaged in a misleading campaign about sedatives with the self-serving goal of forcing floaters out of business. We have seen fear mongering in other economic turf battles across the country, but a couple of veterinarians have perfected it in Oklahoma.”
The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs and has worked with horse owners and floaters around the country. Currently, IJ is representing several Oklahoma interior design entrepreneurs who are prohibited from truthfully describing what they do for a living.